Football can often be a sport of clichés. It's a game of two halves; the better team lost; schoolboy defending; the subs changed the outcome; it's a funny old game etc etc - all of these are heard on a regular basis and will annoy many fans with their simplistic rhetoric. However, as much as such statements may lack meaningful analysis, they can actually be accurate and all five I've chosen can certainly apply to our last match where Falkirk came from two goals down at half-time to win the game late on.
First of all it was a 'game of two halves' in term of how the match and goals flowed, and in our haste to criticise the 'schoolboy defending' that did occur, it's easy to forget just how good Rangers were for the first hour or so. In fact, we could easily have been six goals up by half-time and it wouldn't have flattered us at all. With that in mind, one can argue 'the better team lost'. Unfortunately for us, 'the subs made by both teams did indeed change the outcome'. Firstly, Miles Hippolyte's introduction just after half-time caused us no end of problems. He may only have scored the one goal but his presence and strength on the ball ensured we made more errors and altered the dynamic of the match. Conversely, our own subs had the opposite effect: in the first half, Miller, McKay and King were our three best players and looked like they'd create chances or score any time they got the ball. As such replacing all three within nine minutes of each other stilted our attacking play and we had no focal point in which to build. From dominating the match for an hour, we went to panicking on the ball, failing to create enough openings and, late on, chasing the win while leaving gaps. At 2-0 up by the interval no-one would have predicted a Falkirk win so 'it's a funny old game' right enough!
Given all the above it was heartening to see both the Rangers manager and skipper be the focus of the media conferences this week. Both Warburton and Wallace have taken a lot of praise this season (especially recently) so it was quite right they publicly took the hit for the bad result. OK, it's difficult to blame the manager or any specific player for last Friday's loss but they're the people we (and the rest of the squad) will look to after a defeat. Thus, no-one can argue with them stepping up to assume this responsibility and both spoke well when challenged about such a frustrating display. What was also obvious was a keenness to make amends and Lee Wallace looked to be itching to get back playing asap at his press conference. With a huge crowd again expected at Ibrox tomorrow, the fans are of a similar mind and Saturday's opponents Queen of the South offer a suitably tricky challenge as well.
Obviously it's been only five weeks since we played the Doonhamers but a lot has happened since that game. In fact, we played rather poorly that day and only a Kenny Miller wonder goal secured the points. Our nearest challengers Hibs also won at home to Alloa that Sunday so it was vital we matched their victory. Fortunately for us, Hibs have lost every league match since meaning they can only reach the same points total as Falkirk: ergo essentially we are three wins away from the title depending on others' results. We also have three home matches left from seven games so tomorrow really does represent a great opportunity to take another step towards the Championship title.
However, it may not be as simple as we all think. Clearly Queens almost always give us a very tough match and we also have two important players missing due to their international involvement in McKay and King. Therefore the manager has a few changes to make and, although the defence should remain the same and eager to make up for last week's mistakes, the midfield and attack may well be different. Against Falkirk the manager deployed both Dom Ball and Andy Halliday to secure the midfield and whilst that may happen again tomorrow it may well be one of Dean Shiels, Nicky Law or, if fit, Gedion Zelalem comes in for the on-loan Spurs player.
Meanwhile, despite some indifferent form, Michael O'Halloran should be given the nod on the right side of our attack with Harry Forrester on the left once again supporting Kenny Miller in the false nine role that he's made his own of late. Furthermore, what makes me think Ball and Halliday will start again tomorrow is that Forrester and Halliday could interchange well on the left hand side. The Scotsman has played a wide role often during his career but not so far yet at Rangers. This could be the ideal opportunity for him to do so whilst keeping any changes overall to a minimum. Forrester has also arguably done better in a more central role than out wide so it makes sense to allow overlap between the two.
In any case, it may be another tired cliché but no matter the team and no matter the healthy lead we have over Falkirk and Hibs, tomorrow really is a must-win match. OK, if we didn't take all the three points it may not cost us the title but it would bring unwelcome negativity whilst offering encouragement to our nearest competitors. Furthermore we need to maintain momentum ahead of two important matches at Hampden next month. In that sense, we need to not only learn from our mistakes in last week's defeat but remember the difficulties Queens posed us at Palmerston last month (and indeed last season). If we do that, we will win comfortably enough and let's hope we're all smiling tomorrow evening...
Discuss this article
Enjoyed this analysis? Disagree entirely? Found a spelling mistake? Whatever your opinion, it's welcome on our popular and friendly message-board.